The world of professional wrestling is filled with extremity and the ultimate display of showmanship, but there’s no denying the demand for physical prowess to make it as a professional. A sport that started as one of the most raw forms of competition has found success mainstream through carefully dramatized routines that appeal directly to the audience. I sat in on a panel hosted by two WWE wrestlers, Daniel Bryan and Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat; their words about their profession got me thinking about the parallels between professional wrestling and esports.
Think about the history of wrestling. It began as nothing more than a simple display of physical strength- pure, unadulterated competition.
Then carnivals happened. In the late 1860’s carnies pushed the envelop of the entertainment industry after discovering that there’s a market in paid entrance for staged wrestling matches with exaggerated personalities. Advances in transportation technology are what gave professional wrestling access to previously untapped audiences and allowed their industry to develop.
Whoa- that sounds kind of like how the advances in internet streaming technology affected esports with the launch of Starcraft 2 and TwitchTV. Professional players were given easy access to a previously unreachable audience, and the industry experienced huge growth and development.
Things really exploded in the 1950’s during the era of television, where networks could really play up the drama between wrestlers. Writers began creating storylines, alliances, and feuds to get fans even more involved in the drama.
It’s all scripted; but guess what? That’s what it took to sell the mundane sport of wrestling to the mainstream.
A lot of folks have wondered as to what the next step will be for esports. Some theorize that a consolidation of leagues is required to take it to the next level. Others say stabilizing game platforms for longer than a few years. Some have even suggested getting rid of silly online handles is the first step; but could it be that the missing element is more dramatic story lines between players?
Bryan and Showboat repeatedly used the term €œgimmick€ to describe many of their fellow wrestlers. The gimmicks are what really get the crowds rolling in the WWE. Who doesn’t love a good guy vs bad guy storyline? An underdog story? The bad boy pushing the boundaries of the rules?
We’re all familiar with gimmicks in esports, with the most recent case being Idra parting ways with Evil Geniuses. The very nature of his departure was based on his response to a fan suggesting that Idra’s €œBad boy€ persona is nothing more than a personality gimmick to create drama within the scene and sell more t-shirts.
Anyone remember Idra losing to huk’s hallucinations at MLG?
How about Naniwa suiciding all of his workers in GSL Code S?
We can’t forget about Stephano getting kicked out of Swedish clubs.
Or fucking 14 year old girls.
There’s also Deezer vs. combatex.
And this spicy outburst on Inside the Game.
Doesn’t that remind you of some back stage trashtalk that happens in the WWE lockroom between matches?
All of these are organic pieces of drama, but they all demonstrate one thing. Drama sells. All of these tales from the esports locker room got the forums buzzing and community talking. At the end of the day more people want to see how far the bad boys will push it and how others will react.
Is it just a coincidence that many of the most notable players in the realm of esports maintain a trail of drama behind them?
How long is it until the big players like MLG make this connection, and decide to sell it for big money?
Is that what esports is destined to become?